Chemical Weapons in Syria

Good news comes today of Russia using its influence on the Assad regime to turn over its store of chemical weapons to international oversight, control, and eventual destruction.

Meanwhile, this piece came to the attention of Views from the Edge from the Steering Committee of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Click HERE for a story you won’t see in the corporate-owned media.

The Abel Project in the City of Cain

The same day America honored the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington most remembered for Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, America’s first black President, who had just delivered a great speech in honor of Dr. King’s dream, appeared on the Newshour to discuss military strikes in Syria.

Irony of Ironies

Martin Luther King, Jr. was as deeply committed to peace and to non-violent, non-military solutions to global problems as he was to ending racism. As his analysis of the national, international, and human condition continued to develop, he became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, capitalism, and imperialism. He grasped as well as any public figure of his time, and of ours, the insidious institutional power of an unelected, undemocratic web of the economic-military-corporate complex at work behind the scenes of American public life.

President Obama’s speech from the same spot where where Dr. King had stood 50 years before at the March on Washington was a potential seminal moment of American history. It was a great contradiction to that potential to view the President’s interview on The Newshour (PBS) later in the day regarding Syria. I couldn’t put together the President’s honoring of Dr. King’s dream just hours earlier with his entertainment of military action in Syria. For whatever reason, the media did not seem to notice the incongruity and the irony.

The Newhour also featured a conversation among foreign policy experts about the advisability of “punishing” Syria for crossing the red line of chemical weapons. University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer’s raised the gravest voice of caution. “Stay out militarily.” He also reminded the other two panelists and the viewing audience that the United States is the only nation ever to have dropped the bomb. The world has not forgotten. Click HERE to listen to the conversation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. rose to national prominence because he issued a clarion call for the dawning of the City of Peace in the midst of the City of Cain, the city of bloodshed. In King’s view you can never get to the City of Peace by means of the methods of the City of Cain: violence, the lex talionis, or worse.

Ethical decisions, in personal life or in international affairs, are rarely simple. Our hearts go out to the innocent children, women, and men who died from chemical weapons in Syria. We want to be our brother’s and sister’s keepers. We want to help. We want to stop it. That sense of compassion is as it should be. All hearts should break over this horror. But something else is called for before we act on the impulses of the compassion.

It is also worth remembering who it was that first asked the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It was Cain, who made the statement to God to put the blame for his own homicide back on the One who held him responsible for the senseless murder of his brother Abel in a fit of anger. “Sin is crouching at your door, and you must master it.” Dr. King and others who choose the methods of non-violent resistance to great tragedies like the one in Syria interpret the instruction to Cain – you must master your anger – as the instruction to master one’s own knee-jerk retaliatory response. Patience is required. Taming the lion that crouches at our own door is a chief task of becoming genuinely human.

The Blood of Abel and the City of Cain

For Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, and a host of un-noted, anonymous souls, the way of violence, even in behalf of the good, represents a failure to tame the lion crouching at our door and further entrenches the City of Cain.

Beyond the philosophical-ethical-theological considerations are other facts. The “red line” of chemical weapons is one that was crossed years ago. It was crossed in Vietnam. A trip to the nearest Veterans Hospital is a humbling reminder. It was the United States that used Agent Orange and Napalm in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as part of Operation Ranch Hand. Our hands are not clean. As much as we might like, we do not speak from moral high ground. We have already crossed the red line. The moral finger we point toward Syria points back at us. To unleash even the most minimal, narrowly targeted Cruise Missile strike on Syria from a warship from the coast of a tinder-box in a far off place is like throwing out a boomerang expecting that it will not return to us in retributive violence. As Dr. King understood so well, violence begets violence.

As if that were not enough, the struggle in the Middle East is confounded by another form of political-economic-cultural-religious-military violence: the American corporate presence in the oil fields, arranged by American and Saudi elites (Sunni Muslims), and the expropriation through the United Nations of Bedouin Arab land to create a homeland for the survivors of the holocaust of World War II Germany. The intent, so far as the general public was concerned, was compassion. Provide a safe place, a homeland. But the homeland belonged to someone else when the United Nations expropriated it for the creation of the State of Israel, and the Arab world has never forgotten the way it happened.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” drove popular sentiment to support the creation of Israel. Why the homeland was not carved out of Germany or perhaps France is an interesting question. Or why the United States did not carve out of our vast geography a territory in the United States of America as a safe haven, is a question long since ignored by nations who thought they were taking the moral ground but not forgotten by Palestinians, Shiites, and most of the Middle East.

Those questions aside, Israel today is a sovereign State in the midst of an Arab world that resents both its presence, the history of its creation, and the United States as its most faithful ally and supporter.

Behind it all stands a military-industrial-technological-corporate complex that feeds on mistakes like Iraq and Afghanistan, and the question of whether we are our brother’s keeper, responsible to play policeman to the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. never lunched on the food at the lunch counter of the military-industrial-technological-corporate complex. Nor should we. Neither should the President. Neither should Congress.

The Abel Project: We are the World

An alternative to a military response with potential catastrophic consequences for the Middle East and for us is the neglected methodology of nonviolent, passive resistance by which Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi changed the world.

If we and the rest of the world believe in the City of Peace and wish to redeem the blood of Abel in the City of Cain, let the recording artists of the world with the full support of the United Nations, the Vatican, the World Council of Churches (Orthodox and Protestant Christians), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and international Jewish organizations representing the spectrum of Judaism lift the people’s voice so clearly across the world that it cannot be ignored.

Call it “The Abel Project” – named for the innocent who was lost to the world, the slain brother of Cain, whose blood still cries out to God from the ground.

Let there be candlelight prayer vigils for an end to the way of Cain in Syria. Let the lighted candles in every national capitol, every state or provincial capitol, and in cities and towns around the world make the statement that we, the people of the world, led by the three warring children of Abraham and Sarah (Jews, Christians, and Muslims), stand for the transformation of the redemption of the blood of Abel and in the name of the City of Peace.

The President can contribute to that effort but he must not attempt do it alone. Nor can he lead it.

Unleashing the potential of a worldwide vigil in the spirit of “We are the World” must rely on the untapped power of the United Nations as a force for peaceful resolution, the original dream that inspired its Charter. He must do it not only with our closest allies in the West but with the leaders of nations that resent our history in the Middle East and Southeast Asia who are suspicious of American saber-rattling from the Western presumption of moral high ground. The voice of the world must include the two warring branches of Islam – Sunni and Shiite – whose tensions and hatreds also lie at the center of the conflict in Syria and most of the Middle Eastern Arab States.

If he does, the irony between the August 28, 2013 commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the poor people’s march on Washington and the evening news will resolve itself in a new decision to honor the legacy of the fallen witness to the power of non-violent resistance and the power of love as the only method and power that ever really change the City of Cain. For the sake of Abel, our slain ancestral brother, let the candles be lit across the world.

Irony of Ironies: MLK and Syria?

The same day America honored the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington most remembered for Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, America’s first black President appeared on the Newshour to discuss military strikes in Syria.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was as deeply committed to peace and to NON-VIOLENT, non-military solutions to global problems as he was to ending racism. As his analysis of the national, international, and human condition continued to develop, he became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, capitalism, and imperialism.  He grasped as well as any public figure of his time the institutional power of an unelected, undemocratic web of the economic-military-corporate power at work behind the scenes of American public life.

I was proud of President Obama’s speech from the same spot where where Dr. King had stood 50 years before at the March on Washington.  I can’t put that together with his entertainment of military action in Syria.  For whatever reason, the media did not seem to notice the incongruity.

Last night’s PBS Newhour featured a conversation about the advisability of “punishing” Syria. University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer’s statements, in my opinion, hit the nail on the head. “Stay out militarily.”  Click HERE to listen to the conversation. 

The military-industrial-technological-corporate complex feeds of mistakes like Iraq and Afghanistan. Martin Luther King, Jr. never lunched on their food. Nor should we. 

Two Kinds of Religion

“How a Single Voice Threatened to Spark a Forest Fire”

Gordon C. Stewart, September 28, 2010

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR, 91.1 FM) published this commentary after a Florida pastor threatened to burn the Quran. The same Rev. Jones is part of the story of the toxic video that has inflamed the Muslim world today. Some things never change.

Everyone from time to time feels insignificant. As I did, while watching fires burn across the world, lit by the words of one pastor in Florida. I felt like a spectator in the stands watching the game I care about go terribly wrong, a hostage of verbal terrorism uttered in the name of Christ.

I would imagine that the Rev. Terry Jones and his small congregation also had felt insignificant before they announced the 9/11 Quran burning, and that they were stunned when their pastor’s voice, although terribly misguided, lit the forest on fire without ever burning a Quran.  One of their own, one who had felt insignificant, had raised his voice and now had the ear of a commanding general, the secretary of defense and the president of the United States.

The difference between the Rev. Jones and most people is that he has a pulpit.  On any given Sunday he speaks and a few people actually listen.  Most of us do our ranting and raving in the shower, at the water cooler or with like-minded people at the coffee shop, but we don’t much expect anyone to listen.

But as the Jones story developed, those of us with pulpits were feeling no less beside the point.  Then, as I prepared for worship, I was drawn by some old lines about spiritual arson. “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is a fire … a restless evil, full of deadly poison” and “the seeds of righteousness are sown in peace by those who make peace” (Letter of James 3).

The thought crossed my mind: We could invite a Muslim friend to join me in the pulpit, perhaps my neighbor Muhammad or Abdi or one of their children, whom I meet daily while walking the dogs.  I decided to invite Ghafar Lakanwal, a Pashtun Afghan-American cultural diversity trainer, a Muslim and naturalized U.S. citizen, to bring greetings of peace and share some passages about peacemaking from the Quran in our Sunday worship on 9/12.

Our little church in Chaska welcomed Ghafar, and his words about the spiritual “obligation to learn, not burn” still ring in our ears. Our service drew media attention, and Ghafar’s words were heard on the evening news  and noticed by a stranger in Australia, who sent a message through the church website. “I was touched,” he wrote, “when I read about your recent Sunday service in the news. …  I for one can testify that it has certainly comforted a far away Muslim to know that there are neighbors who will stand together in difficult times.  My salaam [to you].  May we all grow together to attain Allah’s pleasure.”

“Ah!” someone will say. How can any Christian rejoice when the author uses the name “Allah” for God?  But the reaction to the “name” is misbegotten.  It is not the name of God; it’s the Arabic word for what we in English call God.   The forest fire lit in defense of “God” in advance of the anniversary of 9/11 reminds us that two kinds of religion potentially exist everywhere people gather to practice their faith. One kind burns. The other kind learns.  One hates; the other loves.

As James, writing to those who would follow Jesus, put it: “With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10).  We can set the forest ablaze with our small spark or we can use it to light a candle of hope and peace. But, after the events of this month, none of us can again think that what we say is insignificant.